Shares of Moderna plunged nearly 18 percent Thursday after the Cambridge biotech said it expects sales of its blockbuster COVID-19 vaccine this year could total as much as $5 billion less than earlier forecasts.
The company now projects sales of $15 billion to $18 billion worldwide instead of the $20 billion previously estimated. Moderna expects to deliver 700 million to 800 million doses for the year, compared with earlier projections of 800 million to 1 billion.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the supply chain for the firm’s first commercial product became “more complex” as the international rollout continued, affecting shipments of the messenger RNA vaccine. Moderna, an 11-year-old biotech, quickly ramped up production, he said, but has faced challenges, including expanding capacity to fill vials with vaccine and package them for shipping. That may shift some deliveries to early 2022.
“We’ve increased deliveries to many countries around the world,” Bancel told analysts in a third-quarter earnings call. “At the beginning of the year, we supplied to just a few large countries.”
Moderna shares closed at $284.02, down $61.90.
Mani Foroohar, an analyst in Boston with SVB Leerink, said in a note to investors that the lower sales estimate represented a “sizable miss” and likely foreshadowed a continuing loss of market share to Pfizer-BioNTech, whose rival mRNA vaccine has been more popular in a number of countries, including the United States. More than 248 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have been administered in the United States compared with more than 160 million of Moderna’s.
Foroohar has been saying for months that Moderna’s share price was inflated. He said Thursday’s earnings report confirms it is “substantially overvalued.”
Nonetheless, the company is still reaping billions as a result of its vaccine, for which the federal government provided nearly $10 billion in taxpayer funds for research and development and for advance purchases.
Moderna’s net income for the third quarter was $3.3 billion, compared with a net loss of $233 million for the same period in 2020. Revenue rose to $4.97 billion from $157 million a year earlier. Moderna recorded earnings of $7.70 a share, compared with a loss of 59 cents a share in last year’s third quarter.
Moderna’s workforce has also skyrocketed. It now has 2,400 employees, double its total from a year ago.
The disappointing third-quarter earnings report contrasted with a better-than-expected performance in the same period for its rival, Pfizer. The New York-based pharmaceutical giant said Tuesday that it had sold $13 billion worth of its vaccine in the third quarter, surpassing a $10.9 billion FactSet analyst consensus projection reported by Barron’s.
Pfizer was the first drug maker to receive federal authorization for a COVID-19 booster shot and for vaccination of teenagers and children. Although Moderna’s booster was cleared on Oct. 20, Pfizer’s vaccine remains the only one available in the United States for people under 18 years old.
During the earnings call, Bancel and other executives expressed confidence that Moderna’s vaccine will ultimately be cleared for teenagers and younger children despite a recent decision by federal regulators to delay completion of their review until at least January. The Food and Drug Administration wants to analyze emerging international data on the risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that has occurred in rare instances in people who received mRNA vaccines.
Moderna president Stephen Hoge said the FDA was “being diligent and appropriately conservative” for holding off a decision. But he said that emerging data indicates that myocarditis remains a small risk for Moderna vaccine recipients and is elevated only for males 18 to 24 years old, not younger recipients. He said Pfizer got its vaccine authorized for people in the US under 18 because “of a function of timing,” with the higher risk of the side effect becoming more apparent after regulators had acted.
Hoge said he expects COVID-19, which has killed more than 5 million people worldwide, will continue to follow the course of other respiratory viruses, causing waves of illness next year as new variants surface, but becoming a seasonal endemic disease in 2023. At that point, he said, Moderna expects to market its vaccine primarily to people at high risk for serious illness and adults older than 65.
Moderna has drawn sharp criticism for supplying its shots almost exclusively to wealthy nations, keeping poorer countries waiting while making billions of dollars in profits. On Thursday, protesters dressed as characters from the Netflix dystopian series “Squid Game” held a demonstration outside the company’s headquarters.
The African Union recently announced plans to buy up to 110 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in a deal arranged in part by the White House. But critics of the firm say most low-income countries have yet to obtain any doses and that the company refuses to share information that would enable other manufacturers to make its vaccine.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at email@example.com.